The warm smiles and handshakes exchanged by South Sudan's two rivals, President Salva Kiir and his main opponent and former Vice President Riek Machar, on the forecourt of the presidential palace in Juba on September 11, they predict a new breath for the implementation of the peace agreement supposed to put an end to a civil war of more than five years, but very late on its calendar?
The scene came after two face-to-face meetings of leaders whose goal, according to the Presidency, is to " speed up" the implementation of this agreement. Signed on September 12, 2018, it is expected to resolve a conflict that has left nearly 400,000 dead and more than 4 million displaced since 2013. A first agreement failed in July 2016, with the clash between the armed forces of opposition and the government, in the heart of the capital, after the return of Riek Machar as vice-president. The latter had saved his skin little and fled on foot to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The "revitalized" agreement of 2018 provides for the cantonment of rebel troops and the creation of a new unified army, as well as the formation of a government of national unity originally scheduled for May, then postponed by six months.Read also South Sudan: for Salva Kiir, "a year" is needed to form a government of national unity
At the end of their meeting, the two leaders pledged to respect the deadline of November 12 to form the transitional government of unity. In Juba, Ismail Wais' special envoy for South Sudan of the East African regional bloc IGAD welcomes this and explains that " all outstanding issues have been discussed: security arrangements, the number of [regional] states , the formation of the government and the dissemination of the peace agreement. This is the first in a series of meetings to unblock the process.
"We have learned from the past"
In a briefing on September 12 for the diplomatic community in Juba, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Awut Deng also praised "the state of mind, the relaxed atmosphere" of the meetings, and underlined " "immense progress" in the implementation of the agreement. "The cantonment has already begun, the registration [of soldiers] went very well in some sites," she said.
According to the data available to date, the progress made in recent months is undeniable, but remains well below the ambitions set. Of the thirty-five cantonment sites identified, only ten are operational, that is to say equipped with electricity, food or medical services, to accommodate opposition fighters, as well as two barracks, for those of the government. A large number of opposition troops have reportedly been stationed, but no figures are known at present. The goal set by IGAD is to have at least 50% of the 83,000 soldiers of the future unified army not only stationed, but also selected, trained and redeployed by the end of September.Read also Can South Sudan make peace without Omar Al-Bashir?
"The calendar will probably not be held, but that does not prevent the formation of a government," said Alan Boswell, of the International Crisis Group, adding that "to form a new army for November is impossible . " However, it warns of the explosive potential of the coexistence of enemy troops in the capital: "It will be necessary that the leaders take measures to prevent the forces come into confrontation. "
Otherwise, the risk is to see South Sudan move towards the repetition of the 2013 and 2016 scenario, when the rivalries between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar escalated into fighting between their respective troops, plunging the entire country into war. "We have learned from the past," says Wais, the IGAD special envoy. " There is going to be a unification of forces, not integration, " he says. They will respond to one chain of command. He welcomes the recent reconstitution of the Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), which is responsible for soldiers who must return to civilian life. Finally, he says, "help is coming" . Egypt has recently donated tents and uniforms, China has provided food and other countries are "exploring" ways to support the process.
The ceasefire seems to hold firm
"The lack of resources affects all the mechanisms of implementation of the agreement," said Rajab Mohandis, the Organization for Responsive Governance and civil society representative in the RJMEC commission, which oversees the process. It does, however, testify to the " excellent interactions" between the government and opposition members of the various committees in charge of implementing the agreement, who have been working in Juba for almost a year. "On the military side, the commanders are cooperating very well, and there has been no incident of harassment of the opposition in Juba as it was the case in 2016". After this week's meetings between Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, he firmly believes that "keep this momentum". Beyond the demonstration of goodwill of the two leaders, very few details filtered through the precise content of their one-to-one discussions.Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In South Sudan, sign the peace and then make it
On the ground, the ceasefire seems to hold firm. But incidents involving non-signatories to the agreement have occurred recently, including the attack on government positions near Aweil in the north by forces of General Paul Malong, the former head of the government. South Sudanese army, which entered rebellion in 2018. In early September, clashes near the town of Yei, in the south, resulted in the flight of over 230 residents, according to local authorities.
Despite the uncertainty, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is seeing a trend towards the return of refugees. In August, 15,944 people returned spontaneously to South Sudan, mostly from neighboring Sudan and Uganda. A total of 209,071 people are reported to have returned from exile in recent months.
Florence Miettaux (Juba, correspondence)